How the female body changes with age

Your body undergoes many changes as it ages, and whether you begin as an apple, banana, pear or an hourglass, your overall body shape will also probably shift, with time. This metamorphosis is due to factors that fall into two main categories: those you can’t control, and those you can. In particular, the rate at which body shape changes occur, are closely connected to lifestyle factors like exercise, smoking and diet.

An unavoidable factor related to aging is the slowing down of your metabolism, which is the rate at which you burn calories. As you age, your digestive system tends to work less efficiently, meaning less food energy is burned off and more of it is stored as fat deposits. A slow metabolism causes older people to gain weight. As we age the REE (resting energy expenditure) will decreases.

Others factors as hormonal imbalance, thyroid dysfunction, adrenal dysfunction, insulin resistance, enzymes dysfunction, sedentarity, lack of sleep, neurohormone dysfunction, all of these can influence body composition, body shape and weight gain.

Our bodies are made up of several components, primarily bones, muscles, fat and water. Changes in body composition—that is, the relative proportion of weight made up by each of these components, typically happen with age- even when there’s no overall change in body weight.

Generally, fat increases, and muscle mass, or lean tissue, and mineral bone density, decrease with age.

FAT

The percentage of the human body made up of fat is the focus of much concern because of a growing obesity problem.

WHAT ARE THE HEALTHY AGE-ADJUSTED BODY FAT PERCENTAGE IN DIFFERENT AGE GROUP?

For Men: age-adjusted healthy percentage of fat range from:

AGE Underfed healthy overweight obese
20-40 yrs Under 8% 8-19% 19-25% Over 25%
41-60 yrs Under 11% 11-22% 22-27% Over 27%
61-79 yrs Under 13% 13-25% 25-30% Over 30%

For Women: age-adjusted healthy percentage of fat range from:

AGE Underfat healthy overweight obese
20-40 yrs Under 21% 21-33% 33-39% Over 39%
41-60 yrs Under 23% 23-35% 35-40% Over 40%
61-79 yrs Under 24% 24-36% 36-42% Over 42%

Source: Gallagher et al.AM J CLin Nut 2000

Total body weight fluctuates according to the number of calories (energy) consumed. If you eat more than you burn off, you will gain weight over time. Without exercise, that extra weight will be stored on your body as fat, rather than muscle, increasing the proportion of your body weight made up of fat. This shifting body composition can in turn accelerate fat gain over time, because muscle is more metabolically active than fat tissue, and burns more energy.

MUSCLES/BODY LEAN:

Skeletal muscles account for about 40-50% of total weight in a healthy adult; Loss of muscle tissue and strength, or sarcopenia result of lack of activity that challenges your muscle system. Some researchers estimate a yearly 1% loss of muscle mass, after the age of 30. Since muscle burns more calories than fat, a smaller proportion of muscle on your body has implications for overall weight and health, as well as a loss of overall strength, and increased disability.

What you can do: Remain physically active and include resistance training in your regimen.

HEIGHT LOSS:

Not only can you get wider, but also you can get shorter as you age. Bones make up about 20% of total weight. Due to changes in bone mass, as well as in muscles and joints, a height loss of about 1 cm every 10 years usually occurs, with the loss accelerating after the age of 70.

What you can do: After the age of 30 ,bone mineral density start to diminish—especially in women in the first years after menopause . Reduce the loss of bone mass by avoiding smoking, consuming adequate calcium, vitamin Dandy including weight-bearing exercises like resistance training and walking in your activity plan.

WHAT ARE THE FOUR COMMON FEMALE BODY SHAPES?

  • Banana, straight, or I shape (rectangular):
    The waist measurement is less than 9 inches smaller than the hips and bust measurement. Body fat is distributed predominantly in the abdomen, buttocks, chest, and face. This overall fat distribution creates the typical ruler(straight) shape.
  • Apple or V shape (triangle downward):
    Apple shaped women have broad (er) shoulders compared to their (narrower) hips. Apple shaped women tend to have slim legs/thighs, while abdomen and chest look larger compared to the rest of the body. Fat is mainly distributed in the abdomen, chest and face.
  • Pear, spoon, bell, or A shape (triangle upward):
    The hip measurement is greater than the bust measurement. The distribution of fat varies, with fat tending to deposit first on the buttocks, hips, and thighs. As body fat percentage increases, an increasing proportion of body fat is distributed around the waist and upper abdomen. The women of this body type tend to have a (relatively) larger rear, thicker thighs, and a small (er) bosom.
  • Hourglass or X shape (triangles opposing, facing in):
    The hip and bust are almost of equal size with a narrow waist. Body fat distribution tends to be around both the upper body and lower body. This body type enlarges the arms, chest, hips, and rear before the other parts, such as the waist and upper abdomen.

HOW SEX HORMONES INFLUENCES BODY WEIGHT AND COMPOSITION

IN YOUR 20s:

At this age the cycle of a woman should be stabilize ,between 23 to 35 days ,with 28 being the average. This is the easiest time of life to get pregnant . Weight and body composition should be at their optimal unless problems like thyroid dysfunction, adrenal dysfunction, PCOS or insulin resistance.

Good health, strong muscles, an efficient immune system, a sharp memory and a healthy brain are characteristic of ideal youth.

Hormones work at their peak capacity during these years.

Exercise and healthy diet should help to keep healthy weight unless pathology as described previously.

IN YOUR 30s:

Your once-predictable cycle is starting to lose its clockwork regularity, thanks to hormonal changes! The periods may come more frequently, bleeding may be heavier and last longer. The hormonal system is beginning to misfire at times. Production of estrogen and progesterone begins to be less predictable, affecting the body’s messages to the brain. Women can experience PMS 2 weeks before their menstrual cycle with bloating, weight gain, breast tenderness, headache, backache, acne, irritability, depression, anxiety and fatigue. Not only hormonal changes are responsible of these symptoms but as well changes in mood-altering brain chemicals, such as serotonin and dopamine, can also be involved.

The body weight as well as the body composition can start to change.

Between 35 and 39:

Your intestinal assimilation and digestive processes should be operating normally if you have not had any major illness or surgery and have not been using a lot of antibiotics.

Your hormonal levels have peaked and have begun their slow decline, including growth hormone, melatonin, DHEA, pregnenolone, and sex hormones. Your neurotransmitter system is also losing steam. On average, the dopamine neurotransmitter cells begin to decrease 13 percent every 10 years of life after the age of 35. For Body Pathway types, the dopamine system may undergo a more profound decline. The acetylcholine neurons begin to weaken, and the behavioral patterns associated with a depressed serotonin system become more entrenched, making them difficult to modify later. The resulting stress produced by a dysfunctional serotonin system produces blood cortisol elevations that slowly much away at your hippocampal memory and stress system.

Between the ages of thirty-five and forty your physical capacity remains high and you should be able to perform exercise and sport activities well.  The spine begins to degenerate.

Diet, healthy diet should always be recommended, explore switching from animal-based protein diet to a plant-based diet of protein sources with non genetically modified soy products as tempeh, miso soup, tofu, bean sprouts and soy milk as well as the following supplements:

5 HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan), a chemical from which serotonin forms can relieve food cravings and blue mood at a dose of 50-100mg a day (caution if you are already on Anti-depressants) .For irritability, headaches and breast tenderness, the herbal remedy Vitex Agnus-castus (the berry of the chaste tree) at 40-225 mg a day can triggers the secretion of the hormone LH, which sparks progesterone production and also promotes ovulation, can be of great help. Magnesium at a dosage from 200mg a day or more as well as calcium 1200mg a day can be added. Natural progesterone can be added in case of heavy bleeding .

In your 40s:

The most important events occurring in the forty to forty-nine age span involves sexuality. Depleting sex hormones result in a lack of energy, which contributes to a cluster of psychological events that we know as the dreaded midlife crisis.

You are either at or near perimenopause, the 2 to 7 year phase of irregular periods that precedes menopause. Menopause- the end of ovarian function- officially begins after you haven’t menstruated for a year, typically at age 51 for American women.

Few ovulating cycles, or more frequent or more likelier: fewer periods. Many peri-menopausal women experience an estrogen -dominant stage, in which the body cranks up its production of estrogen. .This unpredictable physiology may cause PMS for the first time in life or make it more intense . Bloating, breast fullness and tenderness can be experimented for long period of time. These roller-coaster hormonal changes may produce hot flashes- surges in blood flow through the upper body. The hypothalamus (located in the brain) regulates body temperature and sex hormones, and one theory is that the proximity of the two functions causes the flushing.

When the ratio of estrogen-progesterone gets out of sync, women develop “love handles”.

This is the age category in which most people are prone to gain the most weight. An increasingly inefficient glucose metabolism results in wider waistline and hips. Your body becomes insulin insensitive as your body fat goes up, which may lead to adult-onset diabetes.

Along with the sex hormones, all the other key hormones are in decline. As the growth hormone drops, skin begins to sag, muscle mass is harder to maintain, eyesight worsens, hair thins, and vitality diminishes. Key neurotransmitters as dopamine, acetylcholine and norepinephrine continue their decline.

The first effects of osteoporosis and degeneration of your spinal discs may start to be noticed.

Exercise (30 minutes a day, alternating aerobic with a weight-resistance program), healthy diet: increasing dietary fiber to control and decrease LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels.as well as a diet with less calories, smaller portions, less animal proteins (which create more free radicals and contain lots of fat calories and catabolic (pro-aging) agents and the following supplements can help with these symptoms:

Vitamin E (at least 800IU a day), 50-100mg of soy isoflavones a day, black cohosh which contains the plant form of estrogen (80-160 mg a day) can help cooling down the hot flashes. Phytoestrogen foods include soya products and tofu, whole grains, seeds, nuts and leafy greens.

Vitamin D is important as your skin makes less vitamin D as your metabolism slows down.(dosage at 2000Iu up to 5000Iu /day).

After 50:

For the majority of women, they will be menopausal.

The hormones as estradiol, progesterone, testosterone will be non –existent if no on hormonal replacement therapy. Estrogen levels decrease by 40-60% when women reach menopause. However, the decrease in progesterone is almost 12 times greater, leaving estrogen virtually unopposed. Because estrogen increases body fat, the imbalance causes weight gain.

As we get older, fat tends to migrate towards the mid-section of the body. Many women notice a “menopot” ,or thickening of their waistline after menopause . This can be true even if they traditionally had a flat tummy, and haven’t gained any weight.

It is important to maintain a healthy weight as we get older, to help prevent the accumulation of fat in the midsection. Both subcutaneous fat and visceral fat can be reduced through diet and exercise .

Women with insulin resistance will develop postprandial hyperglycemia.

Metabolism slow down as we age, the digestive system tends to work less efficiently, meaning less food energy is burned off and more of it is stored as fat deposits. Insufficient fiber in the food could raise blood sugar levels, which can cause weight gain. Triglycerides or “bad fats” levels increases with age, causing hypertriglyceridemia. Any extra calories in the diet are changed into triglycerides stored in fat cells for later release.

Without antiaging intervention at this stage in life, an abnormal relationship develops between the levels of serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin levels actually stay about the same, but conversion to melatonin decreases and melatonin go down. Sleep disturbances occur more frequently. The balance between cortisol to DHEA levels begins to slide in favor of too much cortisol, creating a catabolic (pro-aging) effect.

Extracellular water goes down, resulting in a decrease of total lean mass.

Digestive enzymes ,low calorie diet ,exercise(as moderate aerobics ,prolonged deep stretching and weight-resistance bearing) is essential to maintain weight .

Vitamins as B vitamins, magnesium, omega 3 fish oil are important as well as vitamin D.

Bio-identical hormone therapy (if not contra-indicated) in good ratio of progesterone/estradiol can also help with the menopausal symptoms as well as keeping a healthy body composition, skin, brain, bone and cardio-vascular function.

Between 55 and 65:

Resting metabolic rate declines, you burn fewer calories while resting. More attention to fluid intake is needed because thirst mechanisms don’t work as well. The digestive tract and liver have had further insults from medicines, drugs and time. The pH of the gastric secretions decreases as you make less hydrochloric acid.

Thyroid levels decrease. Growth hormone and testosterone levels continue downhill, as well as melatonin and DHEA.

Your diet should be nutrient-dense but calorie-restricted and rich in colorful antioxidant/phytonutrients foods and non-animal meat proteins.

Emphasize lower and upper-extremity strength, balance, and coordination. Build up the postural muscles of the legs and buttocks and the trunk muscles by doing abdominal strengthening exercises as well as yoga .

Supplement with vitamin D, B vitamin, dimethyl glycine or trimethyl glycine, bio-identical hormones creams.

Over 65:

This is the time of immune senescence (decrease) and cancerphilia (increased incidence of cancer). Hormones and neuro-hormones are being totally out of sync with the body and brain’s needs.

Kidney and liver slow down.
Fractures from weak osteoporotic bones are not unusual.

Follow diet as per age group 55-65 and supplements as well . Consider adding acetyl- L- carnitine (500mg to 1 gr a day), pregnenolone, vitamin E, and melatonin

In all bracket of age an optimal vitamin D level is important as well to control weight ,but after 50 is essential to avoid osteopenia and osteoporosis .

Growth hormone can be considered if no contra –indications when all other hormones are in balance .